David Bruce: The Coolest People in Comedy — Fathers, Food

Fathers

• When Sarah Silverman was three years old, her father taught her some dirty words, and then he told her to say them to his friends. She and the dirty words got a big laugh. As a grown-up stand-up comedian, Ms. Silverman says, “I realize now the laugh was pure shock value, but it felt really good, and I’ve been chasing it ever since.”

• When Chris Rock was still early in his career as a stand-up comedian, his father asked him how good he was. Chris replied, “I’m one of the best in the country.” His father knew him well, and he knew that Chris was not lying.

Food

• As a struggling, impoverished comedian early in his career, Jackie Gleason and some comedian friends found ways to survive. One thing that they would do was to go to a café and order a meal that one of them paid for. Whoever paid for the meal got the entrée. The others ate the potato, the salad, and the dessert, if there was one. They also went to the Automat, got hot water for free, then added packets of ketchup, Tabasco sauce, A-1 steak sauce, and salt and pepper to create something that resembled tomato soup. In addition, they sometimes ate the rolls or bread that a diner left behind. Another trick was to sleep through breakfast. When you’re sleeping, you’re not hungry. Even later, during his first marriage, things were bad. One February day in 1937, Mr. Gleason got hold of several brochures advertising a one-cent sale. As an advertising gimmick, each brochure had a penny glued to it. Mr. Gleason tore off all the pennies so that he and his wife could buy sandwiches.

• Once in a while, William M. Gaines, publisher of MAD magazine, would invite all the artists and writers to a dinner in a fancy restaurant. (This was a very good idea, as it allowed people — many of them freelancers who just stopped by once in a while to drop off material — to get to know each other. Because the MAD magazine employees were so numerous, they would ask the waiters if they could push some of the tables together. Once given permission, they would quickly form a circle of tables around the waiters, leaving no exit.

• Early in her career — basically before she had a career and while she was still a housewife — Phyllis Diller did a show at the Alameda Naval Air Station, where she was a hit and for which her pay was a 30-pound live turkey. She left it tied outside her apartment that night, and the next morning a couple who lived near her made her an offer: “We’re farm people, so we’ll kill it and share it with you.” Ms. Diller accepted the offer, and each family got 15 pounds of turkey.

• Who was the first comedian to throw a pie in a silent-movie comedy? Probably it was Mabel Normand. In 1913, some of Mack Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, were making a movie, but none of their gags seemed to work. Bored, Mabel saw a pie. Mr. Sennett’s comedians, including Mabel, played many practical jokes, and she launched the pie at Fatty Arbuckle, scoring a direct hit and many laughs.

• When comedian Steve Allen was a teenager, he ran away from home. Very quickly, he began to steal, to beg, and to eat garbage. Mr. Allen writes about finding a discarded can of pork and beans along a road. The can contained several ants and a few beans, but Mr. Allen shook the ants out of the can and enjoyed eating what was left of the beans.

• Tommy Morgan was a Scottish comedian. While staying in a Belfast hotel and hosting some friends in the hotel restaurant, Mr. Morgan was treated like the celebrity he was, and a waiter asked, “Will you be having a bit of partridge, Mr. Morgan?” Mr. Morgan replied, “A bit! What do you mean — a bit! Bring us a whole one each.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN COMEDY

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